Popular summer drink could raise risk of painful kidney stones, Loyola urologist warns
MAYWOOD, Ill. - Mark Mulac was once an "avid lover" of iced tea, downing up to six glasses a day of the popular summertime thirst-quencher.
"I was a junkie on a bender. I had to have it every day," said Mulac, a resident of Brookfield, Ill. "Iced tea was very refreshing, cheap to buy and easy to make."
Unfortunately, Mulac was forced to go cold turkey. Iced tea helped to bring on an excruciating bout of kidney stones that led to surgery at Loyola University Hospital in Maywood, Ill.
"The pain was so bad that once it felt like I was delivering a child made out of razor blades," said the 46-year-old Mulac. "I really had no idea that iced tea could lead to that."
Iced tea contains high concentrations of oxalate, one of the key chemicals that lead to the formation of kidney stones, a common disorder of the urinary tract that affects about 10 percent of the population in the United States.
"For many people, iced tea is potentially one of the worst things they can drink," said Dr. John Milner, instructor, department of urology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Ill. "For people who have a tendency to form kidney stones, it's definitely one of the worst things you can drink."
Kidney stones are crystals that form in the kidneys or ureters, the small tubes that drain the urine from the kidney to the bladder, Milner said. Men are four times more likely to develop kidney stones than women, and their risk rises dramatically once they reach their 40s.
The most common cause of kidney stones is the failure to drink enough fluids. During the summer, people are generally more dehydrated due to sweating. The dehydration combined with increase iced tea consumption raises the risk of kidney stones, especially in people who are prone to develop them.
"People are told that in the summertime they should drink more fluids," said Milner, who treated Mulac's kidney stones. "A lot of people choose to drink more iced tea, thinking it's a tastier alternative. However, in terms of kidney stones, they're getting it going and coming. They're actually doing themselves a disservice."
The popularity of iced tea has grown dramatically with a whopping 1.91 billon gallons consumed a year in the U.S., according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Nearly 128 Americans drink the beverage daily.
Much of iced tea's appeal is due to the belief that it is healthier than other beverages such as soda and beer.
"I stayed away from carbonated drinks for a long time because I thought it was upsetting my stomach and that it wasn't as good for me, but I guess overdid it with the iced tea," Mulac said.
To quench thirst and to properly hydrate, there is no better alternative than water, Milner said. You might try flavoring it with lemon slices. Lemonade helps to ward off kidney stones.
"Lemons are very high in citrates, which inhibit the growth of kidney stones," Milner said. "Lemonade, not the powdered variety that uses artificial flavoring, actually slows the development of kidney stones for those who are prone to the development of kidney stones."
Milner also said people concerned about developing kidney stones should cut back on eating foods that also contain high concentrations of oxalates such as spinach, chocolate, rhubarb and nuts. They should easy up on salt, eat meat sparingly, drink several glasses a water a day and not avoid foods high in calcium, which reduces the amount of oxalate the body absorbs.